Sure, there are clear procedures for making complaints about a wide range of credit card hassles. But spending hours on the phone to resolve an issue with your credit card is a hassle in itself. Before you dive down the rabbit hole of customer service, make sure you're talking to the right people to resolve your problem.
Your first point of defense is to stay calm. According to Industry Canada's Canadian Consumer Handbook, staying calm and polite will deliver superior results for each of the following types of credit card complaints.
1. Unfair charges and billing mistakes
For questionable credit card charges, billing errors and other service-related problems, consumers must first negotiate their concerns with the card issuer. Generally, a financial institution's dispute-resolution process requires four steps:
1. Dealing directly with a local customer service representative or manager.
2. Referring the complaint to the organization's senior management team.
3. Escalating the complaint to the organization's internal ombudsman.
4. Appealing to an independent, third-party ombudsman.
The third-party ombudsman is either:
- ADR Chambers Banking Ombuds Office for Royal Bank and TD Canada Trust, or
- Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments for other federally regulated financial institutions.
To quickly find specific procedures for a card issuer, the FCAC provides an online complaint-handling process search tool.
2. Disputes escalated to the Financial Consumer
Agency of Canada (FCAC)
As Canada's consumer watchdog, the FCAC can help with grievances that card issuers fail to resolve. "The most common complaints deal with collection practices," says FCAC's Julie Hauser.. "The complaints are in regards to card issuers and collection agencies working on their behalf."
Another frequent complaint received by the FCAC relates to credit card interest rates, either because the rate has changed or is too high. The third type of complaint concerns bill payments, including minimum payment calculations, charge reversals and interest costs.
Consumers who are dissatisfied with a federally regulated institution's complaint-handling process should also turn to the FCAC. "We can investigate the complaint to determine whether the financial institution has complied with its legal commitments," explains Hauser.
3. Deceptive marketing
Most Canadians receive credit card offers via direct mail. A consumer who signs up for a zero-interest balance transfer and then is penalized with a very high APR for missing one monthly payment may have a strong case -- especially if the conditions for the rate hike are buried in the promotion's fine print.
Canadians who believe that they've been victimized by false or misleading promises should contact the Competition Bureau, an independent law enforcement agency that protects consumers' rights to make an informed decision.
Punishment for deceptive marketing is severe. Criminal penalties are as high as 14 years in prison, with civil fines up to $15 million for repeat offenders.
The Competition Bureau's complaint form is unique in that consumers aren't required to provide personal data, although that information can expedite dispute resolution.
4. Scams and identity theft
Consumers should immediately inform their card issuer about any scam or identity theft involving their credit card. You should also notify the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, a government agency that collects and shares statistics and related documentation with law enforcement. Registering complaint data helps the Anti-Fraud Centre identify new scams in their early stages, and enables law enforcement to quickly launch preventive and educational initiatives.
Privacy rights are a top priority among Canadians, especially after last year's spate of cyber attacks in which sensitive personal information was breached.
Consumer privacy rights are protected under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which governs how organizations may use personal data. That law also empowers Canadians to see and request corrections to their information.
Consumers can direct a wide range of privacy-related complaints to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. For example, a credit card applicant modified some application text so that direct marketers couldn't access his personal information. When the bank refused to issue a card, the consumer complained to the Privacy Commissioner. The bank reconsidered its position and issued the credit card.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner provides an online PIPEDA complaint form. But because no complaints are accepted via email, consumers must print, fill out and mail in the form.